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Writer/musician/comic John Dowie on his death, dentists and other Dowies…

So I had a blog chat with poet/comedian/writer John Dowie. 

I was going to the dentist. We arranged to meet when I was finished.

“You might as well come to the dentist in case he’s over-running,” I suggested.

“Charming as your dentist’s waiting room undoubtedly is,” John Dowie replied, “I will be in this pub down the road.”

And he was.

He drank sparkling water. He wore a hat,

This is part of our chat.


JOHN FLEMING: Are you going to see Avengers: Endgame, the latest Marvel movie?

JOHN DOWIE: No, because I won’t go to a cinema. People talk, use their phones and eat popcorn. I can’t believe they sell popcorn in cinemas: the noisiest and smelliest food known to mankind. I resent the attitude of the people who own the cinemas: they shouldn’t sell popcorn. I mean, people are bringing in hamburgers and chips now.

FLEMING: Are they? Where?

DOWIE: I dunno. But they are.

FLEMING: You’re getting to be a grumpy old man.

Consistently grumpy young John Dowie – a living legend

DOWIE: Getting? I was always a grumpy man. Age doesn’t come into it.

I can’t function unless I’m in complete privacy, in an enclosed space with no distractions.

FLEMING: You must have had to in your erstwhile youth.

DOWIE: I had a bedsit and wrote in that. Or I’d sit in my bedroom in my mother’s house and write there.

I am now thinking of trying to rent an office.

FLEMING: It is difficult to write at home.

DOWIE: Yes. If you have a partner of any kind, just as you reach the moment where you think: Yes! YES! there will be a knocking on the door – “Would you like a cuppa tea?” – and it’s all gone.

I had a friend, Gary, who was a painting artist and he said it was always happening with his missus.

FLEMING: The painter’s wife from Porlock.

DOWIE: …or the unwitting girlfriend from Porlock.

FLEMING: Unwitting?

DOWIE: To think it’s alright to knock on the writer’s door and ask if you want a cup of tea.

FLEMING: You should be publishing more. Your story in the excellently-edited Sit-Down Comedy anthology was wonderful.

Freewheeling John Dowie’s latest book

DOWIE: Well, I’ve got an idea for another book. But it’s under wraps. It’s bad luck to talk about it before you’ve done it.

FLEMING: Fiction?

DOWIE: No, no. I can’t be fucked with fiction… But I did have an idea for a story… It’s about this woman dentist who has a new patient and he walks into the room with the most perfect teeth. She falls madly in love with this guy, but how does she keep on seeing him? There’s only one way: tell him his teeth are shit. So, over the course of a year or so, she gets him back for more appointments, taking out his teeth one-at-a-time until he has no teeth left… and then she goes off him.

FLEMING: You should call it Take Me Out.

DOWIE: …or Pulling.

FLEMING: Can I quote that idea?

DOWIE: Yes. I won’t use it. But I do have an idea for a new book – though I can’t write it until I’ve found somewhere to live. At the moment, I’m staying with my two sons and their mother. One of my sons is doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

FLEMING: Called?

Comedy/magic and conspiracy theories

DOWIE: Oddly Alike. My son is Harry Scott Moncrieff and it’s a two-hander with his mate Robbie Fox. Harry does comedy/magic wrapped around conspiracy theories. If he does it really well, they will kill him.

FLEMING: Or so he thinks… Why is he Scott Moncrieff?

DOWIE: He took his mother’s name which has turned out quite well, because he’s not cursed by association with my name as being drunk and abusive.

FLEMING: But Dowie is a famous name.

DOWIE: In Scotland it is… Dowie’s Tavern in Edinburgh… 

FLEMING: I’ve never heard of it. But Dowie is a creative name. There’s you. Your sister Claire Dowie. And Helga Dowie whom I worked with at ATV, who’s a producer now. Your son should have kept the Dowie name. Three prestigious Dowies. How many Scott Moncrieffs are there?

DOWIE: Hundreds, including the man who translated Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

FLEMING: Really? Was your ex-girlfriend related to the Proust Scott Moncrieff?

DOWIE: Yeah. And she can actually claim lineage from Henry VIII. All I can claim is a couple of ex-cons from Australia.

FLEMING: Really?

DOWIE: Nah! Dunno. Irish. My dad’s Irish, so… Well, there’s a famous John Dowie in Australia who’s a sculptor.

FLEMING: Oh! Is he related to you?

DOWIE: No… There’s another John Dowie who plays football. He is related.

Maybe dour, mean-spirited but never ever dull

FLEMING: Does ‘Dowie’ mean anything?

DOWIE: It means dull, dour and mean-spirited. There’s The Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow, a famous folk song.

FLEMING: So your father was Irish with a Scots name…

DOWIE: Yes. My mother was very scathing about the Irish.

FLEMING: She was Scottish?

DOWIE: No. From Stoke-on-Trent but she married my dad, who was from Belfast and she was always scathing about how terribly not-bright the Irish were. I once did a genealogy thing on her maiden name. It turned out she was from Ireland… I think I may get an Irish passport if Brexit happens.

FLEMING: A comedian has just been elected President of Ukraine. (Volodymyr Zelenskiy)

DOWIE: Yes. Swivel on THAT Mark Thomas! Never mind your NHS show. Look what a real politician comedian’s getting up to!

FLEMING: Can I quote that?

DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Yeah! Jeremy Hardy must be spinning in his grave. That could’ve been me up there on that podium! I’m going to the Jeremy Hardy memorial in May. He was very good, very precise and his death deserved all the press coverage it got.

“Now, when comedians start dying, you become jealous of their obituaries…” (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

It used to be that comedians were only jealous of other comedians succeeding. But then you write a book and you’re jealous that other comedians’ books are doing better than yours. Now, when other comedians start dying, you become jealous of their obituaries. Ian Cognito’s obituaries this month! I would kill for that amount of space!

FLEMING: I know. He was getting in mainstream papers…

DOWIE: … in the Guardian AND in The Times! I expected the Guardian to do one, but not The Times.

FLEMING: Malcolm Hardee got very extensive obituaries in the quality newspapers because people in the media knew who he was, even if the public didn’t. But Ian Cognito! – I don’t think people outside the comedy industry itself were really aware of him. He did prove, though, that the best way to die is on-stage like Tommy Cooper – and/or live your life so OTT that there are lots of outrageous anecdotes to quote. Fame may die but anecdotes live forever.

DOWIE: That Hollywood Reporter article you posted on Facebook about John Belushi’s death was quite horrific. No respect. There’s a corpse being wheeled out on a trolly – Oh! I’ll take a photograph of that, then! – No. mate, don’t – And Lenny Bruce, of course. He died on a toilet trying to inject himself. He was lying naked on the bathroom floor with a syringe still in his arm and they were leaping up the stairs two-at-a-time to take photographs of him.

FLEMING: Apparently dying on the toilet is quite a common thing. Doing Number Twos puts a big strain on the heart.

DOWIE: Elvis.

FLEMING: Yes.

DOWIE: I have ‘died’ IN some toilets.

FLEMING: Wey-hey! You still have it!… I should have taken heroin when I was younger. Look at Keith Richards: 75 years old and a picture of good health; his main risk is falling out of trees he has climbed. Wasn’t it Keith Richards who accidentally smoked his father’s cremated ashes?

DOWIE: He said he did; then he said he didn’t.

FLEMING: Always print the legend, I say, if it’s a good story.

DOWIE: The story I like is Graham Nash. After his mother died, he discovered that she had wanted to be a singer but was saddled with having to bring up children and having to work. So he took her ashes on tour with him and, every time he did a gig, he dropped a little bit of her on the stage.

“What’s going to happen? … Are you going to rot or be burnt?”

FLEMING: What’s going to happen to you? Are you going to rot or be burnt?

DOWIE: When I buried my friend David Gordon, I found a natural death company with grounds and you can do what you like there. You can put the body in a hole in the ground or in a coffin or in a sack – You can do what the fuck you like – And then they plant a tree there. That’s what I’m going to have done – What kind of tree would it be? – I think it will have to be a weeping willow.

FLEMING: You’ll be happy to rot? You don’t want to be burnt?

DOWIE: I don’t like that bit where the doors close.

FLEMING: Like curtains closing on a stage…

DOWIE: …and no encore.

FLEMING: I think it’s more romantic to rot.

DOWIE: Also your body serves a purpose if you grow a tree out of it. Actually, I quite like the idea of a Viking funeral with the boat and the flames. But I try not to ponder on my own death too much, John. It’s just tempting Fate.

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The most entertaining British funeral of the last 115 years – an audio recording

Funeral wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

Some of the wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s odd 2005 funeral

Whose are the greatest British funerals of the 20th and 21st centuries?

Well, there is Queen Victoria’s in 1901, Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965 and Princess Diana’s in 1997.

But, for sheer entertainment value in the last 115 years, surely not one can compare with the funeral of comedian Malcolm Hardee on 17th February 2005. He drowned, drunk, aged 55.

The printed invitation to and running order for the religious service in St Alfege’s church, Greenwich, was headed:

YOU LUCKY BASTARD!

The invitation to & running order for Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

The invitation to Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

The Daily Telegraph ran a news item on the funeral the following day (yes, it printed a review of the funeral) which was headlined: Funeral at Which the Mourners’ Tears Were Caused by Laughter.

The review said: “Rarely can there have been so much laughter and irreverence at a funeral service and rarely can it have been more appropriate”.

The Sun also ran a review of the funeral, headlined Dead Funny – Comic Mal’s Wacky Send-Off pointing out that “instead of a wreath on his coffin, pals placed a lifebelt and an L-plate. in church, the congregation leapt to their feet and applauded as if he was taking to the stage one last time. they included comics Vic Reeves, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Phill Jupitus, David Baddiel, Jerry Sadowitz and Keith Allen.”

In the ten years since Malcolm’s death, his funeral has been oft-talked about but never repeated. Well, one doesn’t with funerals.

More wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

More sentimental wreaths at the  funeral

As comedy critic Kate Copstick is still stranded in Kenya with a non-functional computer and a dodgy mobile phone, the Grouchy Club Podcast this week has posted the uncut audio of Malcolm’s funeral service. It includes tributes by Jo Brand, Jools Holland, Stewart Lee and Arthur Smith and lasts 75 extraordinary minutes – especially extraordinary because the laughter, cheers and applause are happening during a church service. The running order is:

Vicar intro
Hymn: All Things Bright and Beautiful
Arthur Smith
Steve Bowditch
Vicar
Hymn: For Those in Peril on The Sea
Frank Hardee (Malcolm’s son)
Stewart Lee
Vicar
Jools Holland
Arthur Smith
Jo Brand
Arthur Smith
Al Richardson
Arthur Smith & Vicar
Owen O’Neill
Alessandro Bernardi
Vicar
Quotations from, among others, Deke De Core, Steve Frost, Alex Hardee, Clare Hardee, Chris Luby, Martin Potter, ‘Sir Ralph’, Arthur Smith, Martin Soan and Paul ‘Wizo’ Wiseman
Hymn: Jerusalem
Blessing
Coffin out (worth listening to)

This year, the three annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards given in his memory…

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Awards for comic originality, best cunning stunt and for ‘act most likely to make a million quid’

…will be announced and presented during the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – two hours of bizarre and original variety – in the Ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh on Friday 28th August, 2300-0100.

The judges this year are:

Marissa Burgess
Kate Copstick
John Fleming
Jay Richardson
Claire Smith

Comperes Miss Behave and Janey Godley will host the bizarre and original variety acts and the World Egg Throwing Federation will supervise the Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championships featuring star comedy names.

The 75 minute audio recording of Malcolm Hardee’s funeral is on Podomatic and iTunes.

On YouTube, there is a 10-minute video tribute to Malcolm, produced by Karen Koren:

 

 

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At London gangster Reg Kray’s funeral

Continuing this week’s semi-theme of posting extracts from my old e-diaries, below is an edited extract from my diary entry on Wednesday 11th October 2000. The Kray Twins, Reg and Ronnie, were notorious 1960s London gangsters.


Ronnie (right) & Reggie Kray as photographed by David Bailey in the 1960s

Reg (left) & Ron, photographed by David Bailey in the 1960s

The weather forecast said it would be a dark grey overcast morning with heavy rain.

Reg Kray’s hearse was due to leave undertakers English & Son in Bethnal Green Road at 11.15am with the funeral itself at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green, at midday.

I arrived in Bethnal Green Road around 10.25am, when lots of large men with thick necks and short hair were leaving a burger shop to make their way to the church. They were ‘security’, wearing three-quarter length black overcoats, black trousers, white shirts, black ties. On the right arm, each wore a blood-red ribbon with the gold letters RKF – presumably Reg Kray’s Funeral. Each also wore, on their left lapel, a small red rectangular badge with the yellow letters RKF.

Up side streets, opposite the undertakers, were vans with satellite dishes on top to transmit back pictures of the funeral procession to broadcasting companies

Reg Kray (right) & Charlie Kray (left) at their brother Ronnie’s funeral; Steve Wraith is behind.

Reg Kray (right) & Charlie Kray (left) at their brother Ronnie’s funeral; Steve Wraith is behind.

As I passed Pellicci’s Cafe in Bethnal Green Road, where the Kray brothers used to meet for cups of tea, some local resident was being interviewed outside.

In the streets behind St Matthew’s Church, there were five or six or more communications vans parked for TV stations, some with dishes on top, some with tall extended masts.

On the flat roofs of the buildings opposite English and Son perched video cameras, stills photographers and people just standing waiting for the cortège to start off.

A large crowd stood around the undertakers’ entrance and along the pavement opposite; some stood on waste bins. The old-fashioned glass hearse had six black horses in front of it, the contours of their black harnesses picked-out with silver lines, their black blinkers decorated with silver lines and 18 inch tall black plumes rising from the top of their heads.

As the crowd watched, an enterprising TV cameraman passed by, dangling off the back platform of a red double-decker bus to get a tracking shot of the hearse and crowd.

Along the left side of the horse-drawn hearse, a wreath spelled out

FREE

AT

LAST

in white flowers with a thin red floral outline and, at around 11.10am, a long white floral wreath was put on the roof of the hearse facing right. It spelled out in white flowers:

RESPECT

English & Son in 2012 on Google StreetView

Funeral directors English & Son in 2012 on Google StreetView

At 11.13am, the coffin emerged and a sky-blue helicopter appeared and hovered overhead. Two teenage girls were standing next to me and, as the dark brown highly-veneered wood coffin containing Reg’s body was lifted into the hearse, they grabbed hands, excited at just being there.

In the crowd, cameras were lifted to take shots of the coffin: some were lifted up in the air and clicked blindly. Some were the standard old-style 35mm stills cameras; some were new digital stills cameras. Changing times.

I walked back along Bethnal Green Road towards Vallance Road, where the three Kray brothers had lived with their mother. As I passed Pellicci’s Cafe I looked inside and it was being renovated: gutted out for new walls and furnishings in front and back: everything changing.

There were only scattered groups of people waiting along Bethnal Green Road but, at the junction with Vallance Road, all four corners were more crowded. Opposite the Marquis of Cornwallis pub, I got chatting to a man in his late 50s who had come to see Reg’s twin brother Ronnie’s funeral procession a few years ago.

“Have you read the books?” he asked me. He told me he had read all the books.

He told me he had not been brought up in Bethnal Green and did not live there now: he lives in Peckham but he came, he said, to look.

Ronnie’s funeral in 1995 had been much more crowded, he said: “The pavements were packed solid shoulder-to-shoulder.”

Today, there were smaller, more scattered groups of people, not streets lined solid with people. Now the street market and shopping trips were continuing behind the people who were – rather than lining the streets en masse – in groups and individually standing at the edge of the pavement. When Ronnie was buried, the Krays were myths; now they were just interesting.

When the hearse drawn by six black horses and followed by a queue of low-sprung black limousines turned into Vallance Road, the police stopped all the oncoming traffic, including an ambulance.

Toby Von Judge

Toby Von Judge cut an interesting figure

Illegal prize-fighter Roy Shaw was there, looking less startled than normal. And Toby Von Judge from Wimbledon.

Among all the bulky black-coated men, Toby stood out by being quite small and dressed in a tan-coloured three-quarter-length camel-hair coat which had two military medals (with short ribbons) attached well below the waist at the left front. His face was lined, his hair black but heavily-tinged with grey and in a pony-tail at the back. He had another medal on a red ribbon round his neck.

Another man had what looked like a slightly melted plastic face and I did wonder if he had at one time had had plastic surgery to change his features but he had then aged, unnaturally changing the shape of the artificial skin.

Arriving late was a roly-poly black man with a black bowler hat.

Apparently missing were Mad Frank Frazer and actress Barbara Windsor.

The funeral inside the church was relayed to those outside by loudspeakers around the church’s exterior: around four at the sides and two at the front.

The ‘security’ seemed to have been influenced by militaristic films. The fact everyone had black coats, pasty white faces and red armbands gave it a rather Nazi colour tone.

On each side of the church door stood three heavy-set men, one behind the other, facing forwards, hands in pockets, legs apart. There was then a slight gap and, about three feet in front of each trio, stood another man facing forwards. Then, between these men and the entrance to the railing-lined semi-circle in front of the church, stood 5 men on each side facing each other, at right angles to the church door men, forming a corridor of men through which entrants had to pass. These men tended to stand legs apart, their hands clasped in front of their genitals. Within the railing-bordered semi-circle, two men stood at each corner of the building facing forwards. It was a display of power rather than actual required security: a security system copied from Hollywood war movies rather than normal showbiz funerals.

I realised later that there were fewer men on one side of this phalanx than the other. The side with fewer men was the side which had lots of press cameramen massed behind the railings. Fewer men made the view less obscured. I also noticed that all the ‘security’ men’s trouser legs were slightly too long: there was a concertina of wavy black material bunched at the bottom of each leg just above the shoe.

After two or three hymns and a couple of reminiscences of Reg, the final song was Frank Sinatra’s famous recording of My Way. By the time the funeral was over, the sun had come out and, as My Way started…

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again
Too few to mention…

Roberta Kray

Roberta Kray, the widow of Reg Kray

gliding out of the church doors were two priests in flowing purple and white robes, one of whom had the grace to look slightly embarrassed at the showbiz element as they led the black suited men and Reg’s grieving wife Roberta (with female friend) out of the church.

As the ‘congregation’ following them emerged, there were conversations, handshakes and shoulder-slappings: a big funeral like this is a chance to socialise and re-cement or create new business contacts.

“I ain’t seen ya for abaht four yeers,” one crew-cut man said to another: “Ow are ya?”

Among those coming out of the church, I noticed the actor Billy Murray. And playwright/actor Steven Berkoff was around somewhere. And there was Toby Von Judge again in his camel-hair coat walking with a slightly taller woman wearing fake suntan, a short black dress and very bleached very fake blonde hair.

As the coffin came out, one woman in the crowd clapped on her own for about five seconds, then it was taken up by others, then others.

Police close the surrounding roads for Reg's funeral hearse

Police closed the surrounding roads for Reg’s funeral hearse

As the crowd slowly dispersed and the helicopter hovered overhead, I wandered along to the large junction of Bethnal Green Road and Cambridge Heath Road. The helicopter, which had been hovering over the church now came and hovered over the road junction which was crowded with people on all corners and on all the traffic islands. Reg’s body was now in a car.

Yellow and white police motorcycles blocked the junction while two other police motorcycles led the cortège across slowly, but it was the walking black-coated men with red armbands preceding the cortège who cleared a way for the long line of vehicles.

As the hearse passed by, on the right side of the coffin were the words in white flowers:

REG

BELOVED

As another limo passed, a woman on the traffic island where I was standing said excitedly to her friend: “It’s Frankie! – Frankie’s in that car!” And, indeed, he was – Mad Frank Frazer, looking impassive.

We had heard the coffin car approaching because, as it came along the road, the sound of clapping came with it. Along from the other end of Bethnal Green Road, across the road junction and away, on to Chingford Mount Cemetery in Essex.

The Krays’ gravestone

The gravestone of twins Reg (left) & Ron Kray

At the cemetery, there was a flypast by a lone Spitfire chartered from Duxford air museum. The Spitfire – a symbol of Britain when Great.

Afterwards, someone I know who was also at the funeral told me: “I didn’t speak to Frank, but I called his number and Marilyn’s (Frank’s wife) voice is on the Answerphone saying: Frank’s out shooting… for TV I mean…”

There is a compilation of BBC TV and ITV News reports of Reg Kray’s funeral on YouTube.

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Edinburgh Fringe: Jim Davidson (the C word is a term of affection in Scotland)

At the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club yesterday afternoon, conversation between me, my co-host Kate Copstick – doyenne of comedy reviewers – and comedians in the audience turned to comic Jim Davidson.

Jim Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

Copstick said that a non-British comedian who did not know anything about the great entertainer had seen his current show at the Edinburgh Fringe and had told her it was fantastic.

“He loved it,” said Copstick. “He said Jim Davidson was a great comedian and was just like a normal bloke, doing blokey comedy.”

“Maybe…” said audience member/comedian Matt Price. “I think he’s technically good, but…”

“Have you seem his show this year?” asked Copstick.

“No,” said Matt.

“Well don’t judge,” Copstick told Matt.

“I can’t avoid judging,” said audience member/comedian Paul Ricketts, “because I’ve worked with him. I know he’s a cunt.”

“But half the comics on the alternative scene,” said Copstick, “are cunts…”

“I know,” said Paul.

Matt Roper (left), Copstick, Paul Ricketts at Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick with Paul Ricketts (right) outside Grouchy Club

“I’m sorry,” Copstick said, apologising to two ordinary members of the public from Tasmania who were inexplicably in an audience otherwise filled by comedy industry people. “Cunt is a term of…”

“It is,” I explained, “like an Australian calling someone a ‘bastard’ – It is a term of affection in Scotland.”

“A lot of comics start a bit cuntish,” said Copstick, “but it takes many, many years…”

“A lot of hard work,” agreed Paul.

“…to become a total cunt,” concluded Copstick. “I think it is a very dangerous thing to judge what somebody is like on-stage by what they are like off-stage. If I did that, most people at the Fringe would be getting one-star reviews from me, because they are arseholes.”

Jim’s panto Sinderella - see what he did there?

Jim’s Sinderella – See what he did there?

“It is though,” said Paul, “very hard to divorce the art from the person when that person has annoyed you so much. I worked on Jim Davidson’s panto Sinderella at the Cambridge Theatre – I was a wood-pusher – I was working backstage – and I was on the verge of getting off with this wardrobe mistress, who was a very good friend of his.

“I went back to her place – gorgeous blonde – and she put on a video of the previous Jim Davidson pantomime and, after 20 minutes, I just thought No! I had to pretend to go to sleep – and turn down the sex – because I couldn’t stand it. That is real punishment and he doesn’t even know he’s done it.”

“What was wrong with watching the video?” I asked.

“It is a well-known fact,” said Copstick, “that Jim Davidson appears in very few comedians’ wank banks.”

“What about Jim Davidson’s Funeral?” I asked.

Jim Davidson’s Funeral - put the ‘ham’ into shambolic

The show that put the ‘ham’ into shambolic

“Well,” Copstick said, “among the many things I loathe – because I have lived long and every year the list of things I loathe gets longer – quite high up is performers who come up to the Fringe and only do one day.”

A couple of nights ago, I saw the terrifically funny one-off show shambles that was Jim Davidson’s Funeral, perpetrated by comedy double act Ellis & Rose. They won an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award last year for a publicity stunt in which Rose punched Ellis in the face causing actual bodily harm simply so they could get publicity by claiming he was attacked in the street by a punter outraged by their performance of Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show.

Kate Copstick failed to see Jim Davidson’s Funeral this week but, no matter, Ellis & Rose wrote a 5-star review of their own show claiming it was her review and posted it all over the internet. It read:

Ellis & Rose have cemented themselves as arch-villains of the Edinburgh Fringe… I’m now quitting as head critic at The Scotsman, as nothing is worth reviewing after this  – Kate Copstick

Another fake Broadway Baby hits the stands...

Another fake Broadway Baby hits the stands

I can’t see this fake review making it to the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award short list.

Nor the fake issues of Broadway Baby – another one appeared yesterday – as Barry Ferns got an award for the original idea last year.

A more obvious attempt to get a Cunning Stunt Award happened a few days ago when Frankie Boyle fans were enticed to the Pleasance Dome by the implied promise of a ‘secret gig’ by their comedy hero.

At the gig, comic Luke McQueen walked out on stage, said “Give me a cheer if you’re excited about seeing Frankie Boyle”, then explained that he (McQueen) could not get an audience for his own show, so he had to lie to draw a crowd.

McQueen told the Chortle comedy website: “They weren’t very happy. But I was confident, once they heard my comedy, the mood would change. To my surprise, it didn’t. They seemed quite upset that I wasn’t Frankie Boyle and began to leave. I offered to do a bit of Frankie’s material if they stayed but they weren’t interested. Some people said some pretty mean things as they left.” He told Chortle that the response was ‘demoralising’ but said he might try again: “Maybe I’ll try a bigger venue like the O2 and saying it’s Michael McIntyre. I think his audience will be more patient.”

As I told the Grouchy Club audience yesterday afternoon: “There is a heated debate to be had next Monday about whether stupidity is any barrier to being nominated for or indeed winning an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. It is arguable that it may be a positive advantage.”

“I love cunning stunts,” said Copstick, “that are done by people who are clearly idiots… Ellis & Rose are clearly idiots.”

Gareth Ellis (left) & Rich Rose at Jim Davidson’s Funeral

Ellis (left) & Rose at the Funeral. Jim Davidson allegedly criticised them as “intellectuals” – but are they merely idiots?

“They’re not idiots,” I remonstrated. “They’re just mentally deranged.”

“No,” argued Copstick. “It’s a fine line, John, but I think they’re idiots.”

“I think it’s desperation,” isn’t it?” said Matt Price. “Everyone’s desperate to get…”

“Desperation is good for comedy,” I suggested.

“Why not spend ten years learning how to be a comedian, though,” asked Matt, “rather than thinking about fame?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “If you had the choice – ten years at the coalface or come up for one day and do Jim Davidson’s Funeral for self-publicity?”

“Oh no,” said Matt. “I’m not knocking those two…”

“Well obviously, if you were a cunt,” said Copstick, “you would do Jim Davidson’s Funeral.”

“And remember,” I pointed out to the two Tasmanians, “that the word ‘cunt’ is a term of affection.”

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My father’s funeral. My fear of falling.

My father in 1976 on the beach at Clacton

My father in 1976 on the beach at Clacton

In the last few weeks, I have posted occasional extracts from my 2001 diary – the time leading up to my father’s death. These final extracts lead up to his funeral thirteen years ago yesterday.


Saturday 30th June 2001 – Clacton

In the late afternoon, my mother’s ex-boyfriend Doug phoned from Canada. He was very upset. My mother was too upset to talk to him. He told me that, this morning, he and his wife had looked out their window and seen a moose bigger than a horse with two small twin baby mooses.

Sunday 1st July

The curate taking my father’s funeral has a website which I looked up today. On it, he says his interests are old red telephone kiosks and cardboard.

Monday 2nd July

I had an interview at BBC Wales in Cardiff for the staff job of Head of Brand Communication. Someone I know was there for the job before me and they showed him into the wrong interview. It caused conversational confusion.

Tuesday 3rd July

The so-far very efficient Clacton Social Services woman is coming round to chat next Monday (i.e. the first weekday after the funeral), so I can be certain my mother is getting all she can in financial terms, in terms of people help and with any physical objects around the house.

At the moment, a neighbour cleans the house once a week; another neighbour washes clothes; another irons; my aunt (my father’s sister) opens and closes the greenhouse as required; my aunt comes round every morning at 1030; my mother gets Meals on Wheels every lunchtime when I am not there; and there are two Dial-a-Ride/Volunteer Bureau numbers she can phone if she wants transport (with her wheelchair on board). Today, when I was away, five people came round to see her separately.

When I mentioned to the Social Services woman that I wanted her to come round to chat with us because I felt it better for my mother to stay in her own home rather than even contemplate a Residential Home, the Social Services lady said something like: “Oh, no, a residential home would be totally unsuitable for her”. This reassured me.

My mother’s problem is increasing immobility but, if needs be, a Social Services person could be got to help her into and out of bed at home. She can go to the toilet and have a bath by herself though, of course, that will change.

(I was hit by a truck ten years ago and my spine never fully recovered.)

Getting a box out of the bottom of my mother’s wardrobe this afternoon, I twisted awkwardly and buggered my back which now gives me occasional stabbing agony when I move. I will sleep on the floor tonight and hopefully three days on the floor will cure the symptoms as usual.

Wednesday 4th July

I got an e-mail from Amsterdam telling me that someone I worked with there has had a nervous breakdown. “As far as I can gather,” the e-mail said, “it all got a little too much, although you didn’t hear that from me!” The person who has had the nervous breakdown was nicknamed ‘the goldfish’ because of his inability to remember what he was supposed to do.

Thursday 5th July

My spine was mending well but, getting up out of a chair this afternoon, there was an extreme double shooting pain in my left hip and at the base of the spine. This time it’s a lot of agony.

My mother’s cousin and her husband arrived from Edinburgh for my father’s funeral tomorrow. My mother’s cousin’s blood is thinning. About three weeks ago, she was in hospital and was given six pints of blood. Her husband has prostate cancer. Ironically, both seemed very healthy – particularly her husband, who is in quite a bad way.

Friday 6th July

As the black limo drove off from my mother’s house, following the hearse bearing my father’s coffin, my mother looked out of the window, crying as I put my arm round her shoulders.

As we drew up at the crematorium off a roundabout in Weeley, we could see a group of about 12 dark-clothed old men wearing black berets and war medals. Two carried large flags, standards from the Clacton and Walton Ganges Association. The men were mostly from the Ganges Association, with a few from the George Cross Island Association – men who fought in Malta during the Second World War. My father was also a member of the Royal Navy Association.

In all, there were about 40 people at the service taken by the baby-faced curate whose interests are old telephone kiosks and cardboard. He kept the main mentions of my father relatively short but then launched into a standard, longer spiel about Jesus. Not offensively long, though. At the end of the service, the two Naval flags were dipped.

Afterwards, in the Black Boy pub (whose sign outside shows a white man), one of my father’s friends was keenly trying to persuade me that I wanted to join the Freemasons. I did not want to. He said he would propose me. My only real experience of the Freemasons was about ten years ago, when lasso cabaret act Rex Roper invited me to a Freemasons’ ‘ladies night’ in some legal dining room off the Strand. It was full of barristers, actors from The Bill and what I suspect were criminals.

Saturday 7th July

My spine is still very painful when I move – getting in and out of cars is very painful. I was (eventually) able to put my socks on yesterday morning for the funeral, but I was not near getting them on this morning and spent the day in my shoes but without socks. Agony when I move. Pulling the brake fully up in my car is painful and moving the clutch with my left foot can be slightly painful.

In the evening, my mother and I went for dinner in a local pub restaurant with my aunt, her daughter, her daughter’s husband and their Down’s Syndrome daughter plus Norma and Joe (Norma is an obscure relation). My cousin’s Down’s Syndrome daughter showed us her engagement ring. Aged 26, she has got engaged to Jason, a Down’s Syndrome boy of 29. She is getting more easily tired than a few years ago, sleeps in an oxygen mask at night and her blood is, in some way, becoming thicker.

Norma told a story about how there was a rope footbridge near where they lived in Scotland when she was younger and how they enjoyed swinging it when people walked across and seeing them cling on in fear.

I had forgotten it was her.

It was walking across that bridge when it was swung that terrified me into fear of falling and imbalance as a child. Afterwards, I was scared to climb up the short ladder on children’s slides in case I fell off. For years I thought I was frightened of heights until (when I used a cable car in Switzerland) I realised I was frightened of overbalancing or being blown over edges by wind.

Inside a secure ‘room’ like an aeroplane or a cable car, I have no problem. But now I cannot walk across Hungerford footbridge in London because it appears to have no supports. I get frightened less than halfway across, feel as if the liquid in my ears is swirling around, want to throw myself down and cling to the flat surface for protection and have to turn back.

Something that happened fleetingly for just a few seconds, years ago, has had effects that have lasted a lifetime.

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I want comedian Lewis Schaffer to die

A coffin shop on Macau

A coffin shop in Macau. Would they rent one for a party?

Yesterday, I had lunch with comedy and theatre director Catherine Arden.

She asked me what comedian Chris Luby’s funeral had been like and told me about comedian Jason Wood’s funeral.

This led to me saying (hardly an original thought) that it was a great pity people could not attend their own funerals.

Well, of course, they do attend their own funerals.

But you know what I mean.

I said I thought people should arrange to have their own funeral perhaps every ten years up to their death. Or perhaps every year.

You could have an annual birthday celebration and an annual funeral.

Lewis Schaffer: the face of a multiple killer

Lewis Schaffer – hiding from death

An annual deathday celebration.

It would be part funeral, part wake, part American-style roast.

I wondered if it is possible to hire a coffin on a daily rate.

Last year, comedian Lewis Schaffer told me he was thinking of developing cancer this year for his Edinburgh Fringe show.

To attract attention.

Perhaps, instead, he should just die. Daily.

Like most comedians, he has some experience of it.

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What was heard and was not heard at comic Chris Luby’s funeral yesterday

Chris Luby R.I.P

Chris Luby R.I.P

I was asked to speak at comedian Chris Luby’s funeral yesterday.

Chris was… umm… an audio comic. He created sound effects with his mouth…. The Trooping The Colour ceremony… Aerial combat in the Battle of Britain, including the sound of Spitfires scrambling on the ground and an aerial battle with German bombers… Formula 1 motor races.

It was an interesting funeral service. While it was happening, there was the faint sound of bagpipes far in the distance outside – despite the fact the service took place in highly-built-up Brockley in South East London. At the climax of the service, there was the sound of an aeroplane flying overhead. And, during a reading by his brother, the brother’s mobile telephone rang – he could not find where the phone was for about 15 seconds and it kept ringing as he searched for it.

If I were of a less cynical disposition, I might have thought Chris was still lurking and larking about.

The theoretical duration of my speech was unknown until it happened – modern crematoria are a conveyor belt of farewells – so I wrote a 4-minute one assuming it might end up having to be cut to 2 minutes. The vicar had started looking at the clock by the time he got to me, so I cut the speech back to maybe 90 seconds on the day. This is the full 4-minute version:

* * * * * *

I’ve been asked to say something about what Chris was like as a comedy performer.

Usually, when you are a comedy performer, it is a bad thing to finish your act to complete silence and no laughter. But I saw this happen to Chris twice.

What happened was that he finished doing his act and the audience just stared at him in silence for about three seconds – which is a long time. But then there was a sudden eruption of clapping, cheers and whoops.

They had just been stunned into silence and could barely believe what they’d just seen – and heard.

And that’s what Chris did – he stunned people.

When news of his death got around, there was a Twitter exchange between the comedians Robin Ince and Omid Djalili.

Robin tweeted – “If comedians don’t make it onto TV or radio then, once they’re gone, that’s it.”

Omid replied – “Chris Luby has done no TV (that’s not actually true) but lives in my mind more vividly than most. But that’s not comedy” – Omid said – “It’s heroic lunacy.”

Apparently Chris was not a man to go on long car journeys with because, at every turn, you would get the sound of a Spitfire banking or diving as if it were attacking a Messerschmitt and every time you changed gear he would add in loud and slightly terrifying sound effects.

But, whenever people tell me of long car journeys with Chris and their urge to throttle him, they – oddly – tell it in a very warm-hearted way. They found it oddly endearing.

Arthur Smith told me:

“Chris was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner on car journeys to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like…. But he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world” – Arthur Smith said – “and I hope he’s enjoying the molecules in the stars.”

Comedian Adam Wide said his favourite visual image was…

“when we were organising a treasure hunt for a computer firm all over the village of Beaulieu, Chris was dressed as a RAF pilot (with a sound system) standing at a bus-stop doing his full Battle of Britain routine while apparently waiting for a Spitfire to arrive at the bus stop.”

When Chris died, the actors’ trade union Equity Tweeted:

“We’re sorry to hear of the death of Chris Luby. His one-man Battle of Britain was a thing to behold.”

Indeed it was.

Like Chris. Once seen. Never forgotten.

I also got a message from a man called John Hawes. He said:

“I was 13 years old when I met Chris Luby. He was a cadet and I was treated to the first of many of Chris’s famous shows.

“That was in 1979.

“I haven’t seen him in 25 years and it brings a tear to my eye knowing he has been entertaining people over the years and to read the wonderful stories of Chris and his adventures. He was a special man and will be missed.”

I think he affected a lot of people like that.

I know Chris’s sound effects were unforgettable. But my main memory of Chris, oddly. is not the sounds he made but his eyes. His eyes always seemed to be sparkling. They were very bright and sparkly. And that’s bright in every sense. They lit up and he WAS bright. Very intelligent. And I guess very sensitive.

I always think that, if you die and just one person cries, you have done something right in your life. You have not lived in vain. And, I think when people heard Chris had died there were a good few tears being shed.

The other side of that is that I suspect there will be a lot of laughter in heaven tonight. The angels, quite frankly, are going to be pissing themselves over Trooping the Colour.

I don’t know what angels laughing sounds like. But I used to know a man who could have done a realistic impression of what they sound like. And I’m very sad he’s not still here to do that or to do the sound of the RAF fly-past he so richly deserves.

Rest in Peace, Chris – though it will probably be interrupted by the sound of the Queen reviewing Trooping The Colour.

* * * *

When comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005, Chris Luby spoke or, rather, made noises in his honour. He performed the sound of a flypast by an RAF jet. Here is a 53 second audio extract from that 2005 funeral service which is just as much of a tribute to Chris Luby himself.

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